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SHEPHERDSVILLE - Top-seeded Bullitt East needed to break a sweat in the first semi-final of the Boys’ 24th District Tournament at Bullitt Central on Wednesday, but the Chargers had enough to turn back a pesky Southern team 54-43.
In the second game on Wednesday, Bullitt Central head coach Joe Pat Lee was upset that his team didn’t break a sweat early in the game against Fairdale as they fell behind 17-5 in the first quarter. The Cougars rallied to within four points, but could get no closer before seeing their season end with a 61-48 setback.
Bullitt East and Fairdale advanced to meet each other in Friday’s Championship Game. It was the fourth time in the past five years that the two rivals have met for the 24th District title.
Chargers Need Sweat
Bullitt East had run through 24th District play during the regular season without a loss, but there had been a less than powerful performance in Shepherdsville against Bullitt Central, a game in which the Chargers needed a late rally to escape with a one point win.
On Wednesday, the red and gold once again struggled in the big house before finally pulling away to beat Southern 54-43. Southern had a 16-15 lead after one quarter and Bullitt East needed a big quarter from sophomore point guard Trey Rakes to nudge ahead 29-27.
Finally, the Chargers seemed to take control of the game when they opened the second half with a 12-2 surge only to go scoreless over the final 3:41 of the third quarter after 6-8 forward Derek Willis picked up his fourth foul. That allowed Southern to get back to within 41-37.
Southern never got any closer than that down the stretch, but the outcome was not decided until the closing minutes as the Chargers connected on five of six free throws in the final three minutes. Bullitt East allowed the Trojans only six points in the final frame.
The win was the 11th in a row for the Chargers, but this one wasn’t as safe as some Bullitt East fans thought it would be.
“I think a lot of people see our team and see a lot of talent and they forget we have 15- and 16-year olds out there,” Bullitt East head coach Troy Barr said of his team which starts three sophomores. “Sometimes it’s like a JV team out there.”
The coach did admit that he and his coaches had been trying to impress on his players the one-and-done facts of life in the post-season. Barr admitted later that they might have pushed that point a little too much, putting undo pressure on the players.
“We’ve played on big stages before,” Barr said. “For young players getting that concept of win or go home is difficult. They were a little frazzled tonight.”
It also didn’t help that Willis spent a great deal of time on the bench with foul trouble. He picked up his second foul with 1:42 remaining in the first quarter and then went to the bench for good in the first half with his third foul with 7:01 remaining in the second quarter.
The Chargers don’t normally expect a lot of scoring from Rakes, but the point guard scored eight of his 13 points in the second quarter to keep the red and gold above water.
“He stepped up big,” Barr said of his sophomore point guard. “I told him at the quarter break to look for his jumper. He hit a short one and then that helps with the longer ones later.”
Bullitt East (24-5) then played great to open the second half. The team scored six straight points in the first 90 seconds of the third quarter and the team was up 41-29 when Rakes nailed his second three-pointer. Then Willis got his fourth foul at 3:41 and the Chargers did not score again in that quarter as Southern rallied to within 41-37.
Neither team did a lot of scoring early in the fourth quarter. Bullitt East did nudge ahead 47-39 by the 3:20 mark and then put the game away on the foul line.
Bullitt East senior Hayden Sweat also picked up the slack on offense for the Chargers with 23 points. Corey Washburn finished with nine points. The Bullitt East starters accounted for all but two of the team’s points.
Southern (10-16) finished with 12 points each from Izajah Armstrong and Alan Almanza along with 11 points by Randall Pickett.
24th District Tourney
At Bullitt Central
SOUTHERN 43 (16-11-10-6) Alan Almanza 12, Randall Pickett 11, Myron Goodall 4, Izajah Armstrong 12, Elliott Presley 2, Aaron Baker 2.
BULLITT EAST 54 (15-14-10-13) Trey Rakes 13, Rusty Troutman 3, Hayden Sweat 23, Brett Hatfield 2, Derek Willis 4, Corey Washburn 9.
Slow Start Woes
A bad first half was just too big a hole for the Bullitt Central Cougars to pull themselves out of on Wednesday in the second semi-final of the 24th District Tournament.
The Cougars scored just five points in the first quarter and trailed by 12 points. The maroon and gray were then behind 29-16 at halftime. Bullitt Central then fought back to within 33-29 in the third quarter and it was still 50-43 late in the game before Fairdale pulled away for the 61-48 victory.
“We lost this game in the first two seconds when the tip bounced around and we didn’t have anybody diving on the floor for the ball,” Bullitt Central head coach Joe Pat Lee said in his office after the loss. “That summed up our effort. It’s a district game and you have to be ready to fight and we played scared.”
While Bullitt Central managed to get within striking distance in the second half, there was never a sense that the Cougars could close the deal. Most of the success came on three-pointers. For the game, Bullitt Central made 10 shots from beyond the arc and only six from inside the circle.
Fairdale only made one three-pointer, but they won the game by making 20 of 26 free throw attempts.
“We foul a lot because we’re not a great defensive team,” Lee pointed out. “They were excellent at the foul line. That’s what you do in district tournaments.
“It was defense and rebounding where we lost this game,” the coach added.
Bullitt Central opened the second half with back-to-back three-pointers from juniors Ryan Schnellenberger and Damon Shepherd. That led to a 13-4 surge that got the Cougars within 33-29 with 4:32 remaining in the third quarter, forcing Fairdale head coach Gregg Longarce to call a time-out. The Bulldogs scored the next six points and were up 45-37 heading into the fourth quarter.
Over the first seven minutes of the final frame, Bullitt Central made only three-pointers. John Sullivan had one early and when Caleb Craddock connected on one with 2:26 remaining in the game, the Cougars were within 50-43, but they could get no closer.
“We’re not a good team when we have to play from behind,” Lee noted. “We got down because we weren’t ready to play.”
Craddock, Bullitt Central’s point guard, played with his right hand heavily taped after suffering a cut the previous weekend. That injury required six stitches and cost him some key practice time heading into the post-season.
Still, Craddock totaled 12 points to go along with the 14 from Schnellenberger and the 12 from Shepherd.
Fairdale, which moved into its fifth-straight 24th District final with the win, got 17 points from Demond Small along with 16 points from senior Josh Stroud.
24th District Tourney
At Bullitt Central
BULLITT CENTRAL 48 (5-11-21-11) Miciah Ocasio 5, Caleb Craddock 12, Damon Shepherd 12, Corey Smith 2, Ryan Schnellenberger 14, John Sullivan 3.
FAIRDALE 61 (17-12-16-16) Demond Small 17, Josh Payne 10, Josh Stroud 16, Richard Delaney 14, Boo Crabtree 4.